By Drew D. / July 2nd, 2020
|Title||Bonds of the Skies|
|Original Release Date||Feb 22nd, 2019|
|Platform||PC, PS, XBox, Nintendo, Mobile|
Over the years, I’ve reviewed several Kemco titles, becoming familiar with the particular style of game they tend to favor publishing. Whether it’s Exe-create, Hit-point, or the other developers they work with, almost all of Kemco’s publications fit a framework or checklist of content and quirks. An oldschool look and feel, turn-based combat, JRPG dressings, and unfortunately in too many cases, a bland story, form-fitting tropes for characters, repetition in gameplay, and an overall mediocre execution. However, exceptional successes like Revenant Saga and Asdivine Hearts show that there exists the potential for another hidden gem by Kemco. And so, I keep holding out hope. Which brings me to Bonds of the Skies, my latest foray into Kemco’s ever expanding library of mobile to PC/ console adaptations in that hope of uncovering a throwback hidden gem.
Bonds of the Skies tells the story of the Grimoa, four deities responsible for the creation of the world. Each representing a natural element, the Grimoa manage a reasonable coexistence. Since it’s only these four, the Fire Grimoa, Rednaught, suggests that they pour their powers into the creation of new life. The other three agree, each creating a new Grimoa and contributing to the formation of mankind. However, Rednaught does not participate in his own idea, instead allowing the other three to spend their power. Now the most powerful of the Grimoa and with his true intentions clear, he wages war in an attempt to subdue all. The other, now six, Grimoa fight back, managing a draw that exhausts Rednaught’s power. The other Grimoa retreat to dwell under the villages of the people they created, allowing humanity’s beliefs and prayers to revitalize them. Centuries later, Rednaught begins a new assault against humanity, attacking several of the villages these other Grimoa are still resting under. Unable to retaliate on their own, the Wind Grimoa, Nogard, forms a partnership with a human boy named Eil, lending him his powers and tasking him with recruiting the other Grimoa and potential human partners to fight against the resurfaced Rednaught.
The story told in Bonds of the Sky is a familiar setup, in that you have some ragtag group and nearly hopeless odds against a single big baddie who seemingly has the power to conquer existence. And in typical JRPG storytelling fashion, you start with an unlikely hero, Eil, and a high-fantasy companion, Nogard, who journey across the world to find and recruit allies in the fight against the main antagonist. Standard fare for the most part, yet fortunately and also in classic JPRG style, there are a few twists that depart from the predictable. As for its overall quality, the story is acceptable, delivering a satisfactory plot with enough intrigue that kept me entertained throughout. Even stronger is the narrative; a humor-filled, lighthearted telling that occurs through character dialogue and interactions. Tones of danger and importance in their quest mesh well with the uplifting mood the characters are able to convey as their friendships and relationships bloom, making for a more immersive experience than I initially expected.
As for the characters themselves, they’re your classic, mold-fitting band of misfits. Eil is your good-natured yet reserved hero, Iks is a more brutish tough guy, and Avi, a spitfire who has developing feelings for an oblivious Eil. Their character types are nothing new and they may or may not leave a lasting impression, however, their overall personalities at least remain distinct, again mainly due to the quality of the dialogue. I’ve made the complaint in other Kemco games that the dialogue tends to fail to individualize the characters, but here, I feel they speak with just enough distinction in their voices. Lastly, their personalities may not change or grow much as the game progresses, but they maintain their initial strengths throughout, making for a more memorable trio compared to the vast number of disposable characters throughout the Kemco library.
As for the side characters, they are far less memorable. Nogard is perhaps the exception, since we spend the most time with him outside of the three main characters. His autocratic, respectable personality comes through and is consistent in the writing. But the other Grimoa, though possessing base personalities, have far less depth. The writing does the bare minimum of justice in individualizing them, but the lack of character build and detail make them nothing more than power-loaning passengers on this journey.
Bonds of the Skies presents itself as a classic JPRG and with that comes standard fare for its gameplay. Traditional turn-based combat, random enemy encounters, leveling, you get the idea. Subquests are all about hunting specific numbers of enemies too, so gameplay is near entirely dependent on combat. Outside of combat, the game boils down to that unimaginative formula of reaching a town, then entering a dungeon like area, then it’s off to the next town, rinse and repeat.
There is a bit of innovation in gameplay that does help it stand out. For one, there is the partnering system, in which your human characters can partner with the Grimoa. Grimoa level up similar to the heroes and for every level they gain, new skills specific to them unlock. From attacks to stat boosts, the variety is plentiful. However, only a limited number of skills can be assigned and used at one time, so deciding which skills to assign can be tricky. Do you activate several stat boosting skills and sacrifice attack skills and spells? Do you choose to assign healing spells over attacks or boosters? These are the choices that can make or break a strategy against tougher enemies. Another unique aspect of combat, as you attack and take damage, a meter will fill and when it’s full, you can Synchronize with your Grimoa, giving you an additional, temporary stat boost and the ability to use special Syncho skills, again unique to each Grimoa.
As for its execution, gameplay is solid, if a bit unremarkable. Combat is simple, and the world is easy to navigate due to the town/ dungeon formula. I appreciate the limits on skills as it added genuine challenge and the partnership mechanic is unique enough to stand out. Unfortunately, there is little else besides combat to move the game along, as there is little reason for any real exploration. I did like the cutscenes that would play when you stay at an inn or after you gain a new ally, as it broke the monotony and helped with character development.
Though gameplay is fairly self-explanatory, one of my gripes regarding it is that there are no initial instructions regarding controls. Even if they are easy to figure out whether you’re using a keyboard or controller, having a prompt for the menu, save, and map button mappings would have been nice. Controls are explained only after you’ve figured out how to open the menu and select the Help section. Another gripe, there are on-screen commands left over from its mobile version that do not function. For the PC version, you cannot click them using a mouse to access the menu or save, and so for these icons to just remain on-screen makes for a terribly lazy impression. Speaking of the mouse, you cannot use the mouse at all. Previous Kemco titles allowed you to play the entire game with just the mouse. It’s not a necessity, but I’m always an advocate for multiple control styles and customization and I would have appreciated that here. A final issue I took with gameplay, and perhaps the largest, is the inconsistency in difficulty. There are several difficulty spikes that will require grinding and these usually rear their head when facing bosses. Enemies also become sharply more powerful in specific areas, so I felt the balance, though manageable, was off. And although I said grinding is necessary, it goes by faster than expected, as the EXP gains by enemies are generous. It helps to take out some of the frustration for sure.
Lastly, Bonds of the Skies features an old-school, 16-bit stylized aesthetic reminiscent of other Kemco titles, yet I found this game’s look and feel to be particularly remarkable. The detail that went into bringing this world and its characters to life is outstanding. From the maps to the character sprites, the execution of the 16-bit style is fantastic. They capture the style of that golden age of RPGs perfectly. There is also plenty of subtle detail that make the aesthetics that much more outstanding. For example, I appreciate that every enemy type has a distinct attack animation. I also like how much detail went into their design. These are definitely not your generic cast of baddies and having a touch of animation is always an improvement over static images. Visually, the only misstep would be the quality of the portrait art of the main cast. This artwork looks amateurish and not as polished as seen in other games, though it does its job of bringing our three human heroes to life. Only Nogard gets portrait art out of the Grimoa and the difference in quality between it and the human characters made me think it was borrowed from another artist or game at first. If that level of quality were available, I wonder why it wasn’t consistent throughout. I also would have liked to have seen the other Grimoa illustrated in such a way. As for audio, the game possesses a fairly strong sound score. The tunes are catchy and fit their on-screen events well. But, they are limited in number, so you will hear each track a bit too often. Overall, I found the aesthetics to be Bonds of the Skies’ greatest strength.
Bonds of the Skies possesses a few highlights that help it stand out on its own amongst Kemco’s library. It struggles to escape average territory when compared to the entirety of the JRPG genre, but with a fairly intriguing story, noteworthy aesthetics, and enough fun to be had, Bonds of the Skies may yet provide you with some of that classic, old-school enjoyment that we love.
androidBonds of the SkiesHit-PointiosJRPGKemcomobilenintendo switchPlayStation StoreSteamxbox store